I've studied the Histories of African peoples since childhood. My father
was a collector of rare books on the subject. I've done my best to provide
source material for the facts I provide here. Occassionally though there
is information that I've gained that I cannot locate the source for
and am relying upon memory. I'll try to keep these instances to a bare
minimum because I want you to be able to verify everything that is stated
Here is my list of related links.
This is one of my favorite subjects: Here is a list of Black Inventors.
The list comes from a man named Henry Baker. He was a Black man who
worked for the U.S. Patent
Office in the late 1800s to early 1900s. He was concerned because
blacks seldom got recognition for their inventions. This was partly
due to the fact that blacks had no rights during that time and could
not enter into a legal agreements. In some parts of the country, blacks
were forbidden to testify in court
against a white person. These laws prevented blacks from making successful
claims against patent infringement. Henry Baker decided to find a way
to make sure that blacks who submitted inventions would not be forgotten.
When a black person came into the Patent Office to submit their forms,
Henry made a special mark on the form that only he could identify. Years
later, his code was discovered in what are now known as The Henry Baker
Papers. Below is a list of known black inventors - men and women who
would be lost to obscurity if not for the inventiveness of Mr. Henry
If you are interested in black inventors of recent years, look for
Carwell's book, "Blacks In Science". If someone asks,
"What have Black people invented lately? Just say "Supercomputers"!
Your library might have Henry Baker's book, "The Colored Inventor
- A Record Of Fifty Years", published by Arno Press and The New
York Times - N.Y. - 1969. Here's an excerpt:"In a recent correspondence
that has reached nearly two-thirds of the more than 12,000 registered
patent attorneys in this country, who are licensed to prosecute applications
for patents before the Patent Office at Washington, it is astonishing
that they never heard of a colored inventor, and not a few of them add
that they never expect to hear of one. One practising attorney, writing
from a small town in Tennessee, said that he not only has never heard
of a colored man inventing anything, but that he and the other lawyers
to whom he passed the inquiry in that locality were 'inclined to regard
the whole subject as a joke.'"
Thanks, Henry for setting History straight.
Check out C.R.
Gibbs' book for more Black Inventors.
If you are interested, here's a link to more turn-of-the-century black
But keep in mind that we've never stopped being innovators.
A few more Black Inventors
George Crum - 1853 - The Potato Chip
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams - 1893 - Heart Surgery
Seargant Adolphus Samms - 1958-1967 - Invented various systems for space
- Parachute release mechanism
- Rocket engine pump feed system
- Air frame center support (eliminates need for second and third stage
- Multiple stage rocket
- Air breathing booster
- Emergency release for extraction chute mechanism
- Rocket motor fuel feed system
Lonnie Johnson - The "Supersoaker" watergun
Flip Wilson - The technical term, "What You See Is What You Get"
I received this in email on 9/9/97. Added verbatim but formatted for
"I am impressed by your work so much that I decided I wanted
to be on your list.
My name is William D. Harwell. I work for NASA/Johnson Space Center,
where I am employed as a Mechanical Engineer. As such, I designed the
hardware for and jointly hold patent #'s
5,368,090 (Nov, 1994) -- Geometrical Vapor Blocker for Parallel
Condensation Tubes Requiring Subcooling;
4,921,292 (May 1990) -- Magnetic Attachment Mechanism and;
4,664,344 (May 1987) -- Apparatus and Method of Capturing an Orbiting
And he's impressed by my work... You can knock me over with
Serious Inventor Resources:
Some of the information here is from a man named J. A. Rogers. He was
a war correspondent for Pittsburgh Pennsylvania's black newspaper, The
Pittsburgh Courier during the Ethiopian/Italian war. He did extensive
research on black contributors to world history. His most famous book,
"World's Great Men of Color", published by Collier Books,
revealed the racial identities of many famous men and women who were
previously assumed to be white. He also lists many lesser-known black
contributors to world history. His book has an extensive bibliography
for those who want to verify his research. J. A. Rogers was aided in
his research by his wife, Helga who continues to be influential in bringing
to light the many contributions made by blacks throughout human history.
Ludwig van Beethoven
There were many Black cowboys
in the wild west, some became famous, others were notorious.
"On the snowy night of March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks, a Black
Natick Indian, stepped dramatically into U. S. history in Boston. He
was the first to fall in the Boston Massacre. Benson J. Lossing, a nineteenth-century
historian, transformed Attucks into a Nantucket Indian. To Lossing it
seemed wrong to place an Afro-American with Native American blood at
the daring first moment of American Independence."
"Frederick Douglass, a slave runaway, with mixed African, Indian,
and white ancestry,became the leading voice of black America during
the Civil War era and the decades that followed. His creed, 'If there
is no struggle, there is no progress,' has inspired reform and revolutionary
movements ever since."
"Langston Hughes, poet laureate of African-Americans, liked to
trace his family tree back to Pocahontas.
In that tree also was a man who joined John Brown's famous raid on Harper's
Ferry and another who became a Virginia congressman."
Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable
" ...The story of a fur trapper named Du
Sable leaves no doubt that this handsome black Frenchman married
into and remained a good friend of the Illinois Indians. As a Frenchman
in a land recently taken by the British, Du Sable fell under suspicion.On
July, 4, 1779, a British officer complained he 'was much in the interest
of the French' and DuSable was arrested for 'treasonable intercourse
with the enemy.' He managed to escape only to be arrested again. This
time he so impressed British Governor Patrick Sinclair that Du Sable
was released and for five years placed in charge of a settlement on
the St. Charles River. Du Sable had no difficulty in persuading local
Indians he was a friend. It took much longer for white Chicagoans to
recognize that Du Sable was their city's founder."
Indians Also Enslaved Blacks
The Five Civilized Nations
" The Chocktaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations
were early penetrated by European merchants, missionaries, and government
officials. Because they readily accepted Christianity, and European
styles in houses and dress, whites began to call them 'The Five Civilized
Tribes.' With the notable exception of the Seminoles, some members also
The Chickasaw treated their black slaves as badly as did the whites,
but as for the other slaveholding Indians it is written that:
" Whites who visited slaveholding Indians described slave men
and women who were well-treated, adequately fed and cared for. U. S.
slaveholders viewed this leniency as a sign Native Americans did not
understand bondage. They also thought it posed a danger to their own
ability to control their black laborers. If Native Americans did not
know how to treat their slaves, then something would have to be done
about the Native Americans."
- Black Indians, A Hidden Heritage, William Loren Katz, Published by
Atheneum N.Y. 1986 -
Slavery had been widespread in Africa going back to her earliest periods
of history. The Egyptians enslaved Semitic and Mediterranean peoples
as well as blacks from Nubia. Slavery also thrived in the Greek and
Roman Empires whos leaders were themselved educated in Egypt. During
these periods, slaves had many opportunities for education and cultural
advancement. Slavery was not seen as being a demeaning trade and many
slaves rose to high social positions due to their intelligence and training.
Muslims invaded Africa and took black women for their harems. They
took black men and forced them into military service and menial work.
"As Negro kings and princes embraced Islam, they cooperated with
the Arabians in the exportation of human cargo. Long before the extensive
development of the slave trade in the hands of Europeans, many of the
basic practices of the international slave trade had already been established."
Europeans entered the slave trade almost immediately after the discovery
of a new world in 1492. They introduced the harshest form of slavery
ever seen in human history. People were torn, not only from theirs homes
and families, they were stripped of their religion, their language,
their culture, everything that was familiar was taken away. They were
not allowed to sing their native songs, play native instruments, and
were forbidden to learn to read and write the language of their masters.
In the course of exersizing this new form of slavery, the Europeans
(primarily the English, Dutch, and Portugese. Spain was banned from
Africa by papal decree but could give "asiento" to others
to supply slaves to Spanish colonies) elicited the help of local chiefs
- often at gunpoint, more often by bribes. In fact, "Fierce wars
broke out between tribes when the members of one sought to capture members
of another to sell them to the traders. Slaves brought to the post for
sale were always chained, for the caboceers (native middlemen who arranged
the raids) and slave captains very early learned that without such safeguards
the slaves would make their escape."
Slaves were traded for "Cotton textiles of all descriptions, utensils
of brass, pewter, and ivory, boxes of beads of many sizes and shapes,
guns and gunpowder, spirits - whiskey, brandy, and rum - and a variety
of foodstuffs..." Not mentioned in the book is hemp (marijuana)
which was grown in the colonies (by George Washington amoung others)
for rope and as a narcotic. It was also traded for slaves. According
to George Washington's diary, he inhaled.
- From Slavery to Freedom, A history Of Negro Americans, Fourth Edition,
John Hope Franklin, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. N.Y. 1974 -
The majority of black slaveowners had managed to purchase members of
their own family - in effect, buying their freedom. There were some
blacks who purchased slaves for the sole purpose of economic gain. Amoung
these were Cyprian Ricard who owned ninety-one slaves and an estate
in Louisiana. Charles Rogues owned forty-seven slaves, and Marie Metoyer
owned fifty-eight slaves.
- From Slavery to Freedom, A history Of Negro Americans, Fourth Edition,
John Hope Franklin, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. N.Y. 1974 -
Back in Alabama around 1901 there was a Constitutional Convention designed
to deny Blacks and poor whites the right to vote. The wealthy white
men of Alabama wanted to control the government and lower their taxes
and reduce the amount of government interference in their business affairs.
Frank S. White of Birmingham stated, "We have disfranchised the
African in the past by doubtful methods; but in the future we will disfranchise...
[him] by law."
By a long campaign of pitting the Blacks (represented primarily by
the Republicans) against the poor whites (represented primarily by the
Populists), they were able to get the "Black Belt" to vote
against their own interests in favor of the Constitutional Convention.
The convention president, John B. Knox said, in his opening address
to the convention, that the pledge of no white disfranchisement did
not extend, "beyond the right of the voters now living". Meaning
that the new law would not disfranchise the current generation of poor
white voters but the generation to follow could lose their right to
vote. The Convention resulted in the repeal of liberal suffrage laws,
replacing them with very stringent voting requirements. Knox's clever
presentation of the suffrage reforms so impressed the Viginian assembly
that they abandoned their own voting rights amendments and adopted the
Alabama plan in total. [My grandfather was Knox's chauffeur. - Ed.]
"The permanent plan to establish voting requirements turned from
military service and ancestors to other matters. A prospective voter
had to reside in the state for two years, his county for one year, and
his ward for three months. On or before February 1 in an election year,
he had to pay a poll tax of $1.50, retroactive to 1901 or to the year
when voting age was reached. Either the voter or his wife had to own
real or personal property worth $300 or more or forty acres of land
on which the taxes had been paid. The potential voter had to be able
to read and write any article in the constitution -- in English -- and
that meant to the satisfaction of the registrars. He must have been
engaged in a lawful business for the previous year and could never have
been convicted of crimes ranging from treason and murder to vagrancy
and buying votes. While the poor white might initially win a vote under
the ancestry clauses, it would not be difficult to disfranchise him
after 1903. The black man had almost no chance at all."
- Alabama, The History of a Deep South State, Rogers, Ward, Atkins,
Flynt, pub. The University of Alabama Press, p. 347. -
After the Revolutionary War, many laws were put into place to control
blacks. Among these was a law that forbade blacks from testifying against
whites in court. Ironically, the author of that particular law was murdered
by his brother. A slave was the only witness to the murder, but the
murderer was protected by law from the slave's testimony. The brother
was never prosecuted, and instead inherited his murdered brother's wealth.
I still can't find the book I read this in. It's a great story and
I'll leave it in but you can file it under mythology until I can find
the source for it.
In 1836 Congress introduced the gag rule so that any anti-slavery
petition would be laid on the table and ignored. This was considered
to be a direct violation of the Constitution. The gag rule was
lifted in 1845 due to intervention by President John Quincy Adams.
- The Chronological History of the Negro in America, Bergman, pub.
Harper & Row, Publishers - 1969, p. 157 -
Almost every Black person in America has had experiences dealing with
racism. My experiences are not unique.
In fact, there were many more than I'm relating here, but these are
the ones that stand out in my mind.
Things I Remember
I've often been asked if I hate white people for what they did to me
and other Black people. I dislike the individual people who've wronged
me and I despise the racism and ignorance that spawned their behavior.
Hating an entire group of people is a self-destructive waste of time.